All too often, we wear the term “perfectionist” as a badge of honour. In reality? It sets us up for failure. When your standards are so high that nothing you do feels good enough, it’s hard to recognize your own achievements, feel confident in your decisions, and get down to work.
Instead, perfectionists often stress endlessly over exacting standards, procrastinating and criticizing themselves endlessly. Over the long term, this can lead to stifled creativity, stunted career growth, and missed opportunities.
One of the worst things about perfectionism is that it often plagues people who have a lot of talent. Instead of using their skills to do work that could be exceptional, they drive themselves in circles because they’re too fixated on creating something perfect—and because that’s impossible, they never create anything at all.
What Perfectionism Looks Like
- Catastrophizing: e.g. “If this doesn’t go perfectly, it’s a total failure”
- All-or-nothing thinking: e.g. “If I misspeak or say the wrong thing, I will get fired”
- ‘Should’ think: e.g. “I should never make mistakes”
How to manage perfectionism
If that sounds like you, you’re not alone. Perfectionism is a common struggle that’s reinforced in the working culture around us (and especially on Linkedin feeds) where we compete and celebrate promotions, achievements, and accomplishments, all while glossing over all the failures that it took to finally get there.
There’s also good news: if you’re a perfectionist, it’s possible to change!
Think of it like a bad habit. You may not be able to change overnight, but there are some important strategies you can use over the long term to manage any perfectionistic tendencies you might have:
- Cultivate an awareness of when your perfectionism starts to take over. Usually it’s when you’re taking way too much time on something, procrastinating, or outright avoiding something because you think you’ll fail, or because something you did wasn’t just right.
- Adjust your standards to allow for mistakes. Think it over and ask yourself what you’d say to a friend in your shoes who was worried about a mistake she made at work. Probably something like “It’s okay to make mistakes,” or “Your work is great! Nobody is perfect.”
- Use SMART goals to help you manage your time. You may have heard of them before: SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-bound. Goals that tick off all these boxes are great for perfectionists who expect themselves to achieve way too much in a day.
We’re all afraid to fail sometimes, but it’s important to keep in mind that there’s a big difference between “failure” and “good enough.” When “good enough” feels like failure, it’s time to take a step back for some perspective: “good enough” is sometimes the best option when you don’t have endless time, resources, and energy to strive for perfection.